One of the results of our individualistic society is that families have become increasingly isolated. This isolation is sometimes justified by Catholic families as an attempt to preserve their family from a society that has become increasingly hostile to our faith and values. But such an attitude is problematic. Even the Holy Family, after the death of Herod, saw the importance of their society in returning to Nazareth from Egypt, where they were foreigners, extracted from their community. In order for it to thrive, the family needs the support of its wider Church community, and must resist the anti-social, individualistic tendencies of our society.
To understand this, consider the Parable of the Sower. The family isolated from society is like the seed cast in the thornbushes. The soil alone is not necessarily the problem— they may regularly receive the sacraments, pray together as a family, and be catechized in the faith. All of these are central aspects to Christian family life. The problem is persevering through the thorns of temptations and challenges affecting them, “the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in,” which “choke the word,” rendering it “unfruitful.” These challenges and temptations don’t just come from without, but from within. A family, isolated from the Church, can easily ignore vices growing around [ATK1] them, or even justify them. In my grandparents’ generation, it was much easier to deal with these challenges because parish communities were stronger. But with the rise of individualism, and the fading away of vibrant parishes, many Catholic families suffer from these thorns without the support of their community, and as a result, have struggled to persevere in their vocation, be it through divorce, crises[ATK2] , or members leaving the Church.
The family needs a wider community to help dig out the thorns of vice and sin to ensure the soil is hospitable to a holy family life. Once this soil is cultivated, it can be given the spiritual strength to grow and evangelize our toxic world, and yield thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold. This dependence on our neighbor is antithetical to our modern, individualistic sensibilities, but it is vital to Christian life.
How can we begin fostering fruitful, robust Christian communities? Perhaps we can begin by looking at the early Christian communities described in Acts. While certain aspects of these communities may be impractical in some contexts, it is well worth reflecting on how we can be more intentional about our involvement in our parishes, not relegating it to Sunday Mass, but both actively supporting and being dependent on one another in the faith. In doing so, we can develop the strong relationships necessary to encourage growth in holiness, “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if any have a complaint against another” (Colossians 3:13).
Br. Elias Guadalupe Ford, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE